Law students participating in Washington and Lee's new third-year curriculum have amassed over 1500 hours of community service since the beginning of the academic year.
The School began tracking the hours as part of the third year law-related service requirement, which specifies that students complete a minimum of 60 hours of uncompensated service to the public or the legal profession during the year. The service program is open to law students in all three classes.
Students have donated their time to a variety of organizations and causes, including serving as advocates for victims of domestic abuse, teaching Rule of Law classes in local schools, restoring voting rights for ex-felons who have paid their debt to society, and researching how the Virginia court system treats the poor. Students also receive service hours for school-based activities, such as serving as an Honor Advocate or editing one of the School's legal journals.
Mary Z. Natkin '85L, Asst. Dean for Clinical Education and Public Service, oversees the third-year service requirement. She notes that this is only a snapshot of what students accomplish in the community across all three years of law school.
"Service is ingrained in the character of the legal profession, and our students have always had a great commitment to service in the School and community well beyond their academic responsibilities," says Natkin. "What the service requirement has really done is allow us to see the impact of these service projects in real numbers, and at the same time, encourage the students to do more."
Students who complete more than one hundred hours of uncompensated service will be awarded a certificate and their extraordinary service will be noted at commencement. Students have until the end of the school year to report their service hours. Currently, 43 students have reported 1548 service hours, an average of 36 hours per student.
One student participating in the program is David Robinson, a 3L who chose as his service project the Southwestern Virginia Innocence Project, which works to exonerate men and women who are currently incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.
"I chose this project because I can think of nothing worse than having your freedom taken from you without reason," said Robinson. "This is not only an invaluable learning experience for me, but an opportunity to make a true difference, however small, in the reformation of a flawed justice system."
The service requirement is a component of the Law School's new third-year program, which is in its first year of partial operation. The program marks a dramatic departure from traditional legal education by engaging third-year law students in a broad array of real-world and simulated applications of legal knowledge in order to provide a bridge from the study of legal theory to the actual practice of law. The program will go into full effect in 2011-12.